Book Review

The Gentleman’s Book of Vices by Jess Everlee

I very much enjoyed The Gentlemen’s Book of Vices, by Jess Everlee, despite an ending that I thought was a bit of a cop-out. This was a gentle, fun, and sexy book that explores the love between two men in Victorian England, one a reader and one a writer. I fell into the warm cadence between the two protagonists and loved and worried about them and delighted in their joys.

Our story begins with Charlie, a man who is about to marry a very sweet woman named Alma despite the fact that he exclusively prefers the company of men, as they used to say. Charlie has a collection of autographed erotica that he plans to put in a safe deposit box upon his marriage. Before he does that, he wants his favorite erotic novel to be autographed by the author, Miles, who lives very much incognito.

Miles initially assumes that Charlie found him for blackmail purposes and tells him to leave, but then reconsiders, goes to Charlie’s house, and apologizes – setting off a romance between the two men as they try to juggle their obligations, their histories, and their fears with their passion for each other.

This book has a great many elements that I adore: good writing technique, solid character building, love of the written word, great sexual chemistry, a real feeling of rapport and closeness between the romantic leads, found family, and great supporting characters. I liked that the characters express gender and sexuality in a variety of different ways, most of which are described but not labeled. Seeing Charlie introduce the isolated Miles to his family of choice is really heartwarming.

I also appreciate that there is nothing villainous about Alma. Both Charlie and Alma have pretty villainous parents, but Alma herself is delightful and has a sweet bond with Charlie, who is always gentle with her and who helps her have the kind of fun in her life that her parents forbid. I was so worried about her that I had to skip to the end to make sure she ended up ok. Because this is a romance, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that she does.

The ending is basically a satisfying one, but I admit to having a bit of a quibble:

Grumpy spoilers here!

It becomes apparent that the obvious solution is for Charlie to marry Alma who desperately needs the security of the marriage for plot reasons, and have a consensually honest and open marriage with Miles. But Miles does not want to be the third party in this relationship, and lo and behold, a third option comes up that allows Alma to be secure and respectably single and Charlie and Miles to live in (discreet) bliss.

Look, I’m happy for everyone, but the third option version of a happy ending requires all sorts of last minute strings to be pulled and revelations to be made. The end result felt out of step with all of the prior character and plot development, as if a contemporary or modern solution was forced into a historical setting, so that the HEA would match a current set of expectations.

This historical romance pays enough attention to the ‘historical’ part that it warranted an HEA that felt more authentic to the world of this book.

Grumps aside, the truth is that I adored this story. I love Charlie, Miles, and Alma. I loved the consensual and rather mild but enthusiastic kink, I loved the supporting characters, and above all I loved that Charlie and Miles develop a relationship that feels completely authentic, mutually supportive, and even cozy. To their mutual surprise, they not only have great sex but they also enjoy drinking tea together. They have a nice banter between them and a real appreciation of each other’s qualities. The world feels solid and lived in, the characters feel genuine, and as a result, I had all the feels. If the test of a good romance is whether I root for a couple and believe in their success, then the answer to this one is very much yes!

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The Gentleman’s Book of Vices by Jess Everlee

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  1. kkw says:

    Huh. I agree about the spoiler, but otherwise had a very different reading experience. I was wildly disappointed by this one. It is such a fun premise but nothing is really done with it, checkov’s porn as it were. The historical setting wound up feeling super bland, and unconvincing. The characters’ motivations and decisions were dictated by the plot rather than the other way around. Which only works if the plot races along, and this sure didn’t.

  2. HeatherS says:

    I read this one a little while back and I enjoyed it but ultimately found it unmemorable.

    Show Spoiler
    I do agree that the HEA would have been more authentic (and I also would have preferred it) had Charlie married Alma and then given her her freedom to do as she wished. She would have had the protection of his name and the greater financial and social freedom of a married woman, versus an unmarried young lady, and also have enjoyed actually being friends and liking the person she was married to. Maybe it’s setting her up to have her own HEA in another book.
  3. chacha1 says:

    I agree with Carrie S. on this one. It was a B+ book for me, impressing me enough to put the next in series on my wishlist while also generating a small sigh for the things that weren’t perfect. For me, the deus ex machina conclusion served the need for a happy ending within a certain number of words. But Miles writes tragedy porn for reasons, and he doesn’t overcome his blind spots. His character development overall I felt was not as strong as Charlie’s. I didn’t, in fact, fully embrace him as someone Charlie would fall so quickly & thoroughly in love with. (The reasons weren’t on the page early enough.) I enjoyed the book and appreciated the writing while wishing both MCs put equal amounts of work & compromise into the relationship. A romance in which one MC does all the heavy lifting doesn’t deliver a convincing HEA for me, only a HFN. Also, I felt Alma gave Charlie something he really needed: someone to take care of and be strong for. The lavender marriage scenario could’ve been deeply interesting and would still have left open the sell-the-bookstore option.

  4. Lisa F says:

    I’ve heard generally positive word about this one! Glad it’s generally good except for some ending quibbles.

  5. LML says:

    Is that a whopper of a spoiler in the second comment?

  6. Mikey says:

    LML: I haven’t read the book myself, but it doesn’t seem possible for it not to be at least a medium-sized spoiler.

  7. SB Sarah says:

    Apologies for not catching it earlier; it’s hidden now.

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